L.A. Times: Afghanistan Ill-Prepared for the Swine Flu

Posted on November 9, 2009

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Excerpts from the Los Angeles Times:

At least 11 people have died from the H1N1 virus in the capital, Kabul. The government has declared an emergency and launched an education campaign.

Afghanistan’s first reported death from the flu — that of a 35-year-old engineer from the capital, Kabul — was announced Oct. 28. Since then at least 10 more people have died in Kabul, said the minister of public health, Dr. Mohammad Amin Fatemi, on Monday. Cases have also been reported in outlying provinces.

The ministry has declared a state of emergency, shutting down schools, universities and public restrooms for three weeks. Sports clubs and wedding halls also have closed their doors. And people wearing blue surgical masks are suddenly everywhere in Kabul: in bazaars, on bicycles, in tea shops and taxis.

The Health Ministry has distributed antiviral medicine to 34 Kabul hospitals and clinics, but there are only about 50,000 doses, whereas up to 300,000 patients could potentially require treatment, Health Ministry spokesman Ahmad Farid Raaid said. He is optimistic that international donors will provide more medicine, but there is still no vaccine in the country.

WHO administers a global vaccine donation program, and it will provide Afghanistan with 500,000 of the first 11 million doses it receives. But because of worldwide production delays and huge demand, WHO has not received any of the promised doses yet, Graaff said.

A government-sponsored TV and radio campaign advises anyone with a fever to stay home, and those with mild symptoms to avoid shaking hands or embracing each other. When they go to mosque, they are told to pray outside if possible, or put on a mask.

But in a land of swirling rumors, it is hard to persuade people to follow such rules when they still think that the disease is spread from animals to humans. Graaff said there were reports of patients being beaten because it was thought they had eaten pork, which is forbidden by the Islamic faith.

Maybe the Taliban gang will catch it before the vaccines arrive. 

Posted in: Afghanistan